Alain Hunkins is a lifelong student of human behavior and performance. As a Senior Facilitator at FutureThink, Alain coaches CEOs, executives, managers, and front-line employees and has facilitated for over 1,000 groups worldwide. Alain has led innovation training sessions at various MDC owner meetings and facilitated ideation for MDC’s NextUP innovation program. If you’d like more insights on innovation and leadership from Alain Hunkins, sign up for his free monthly newsletter, Building Strong Leaders, by clicking here. MDC Owners interested in using FutureThink to facilitate innovation trainings at their credit union can learn more at MDC Connect.

If you Google “Innovation”, you’ll get back nearly 3 Billion results in .66 seconds. But what is innovation, really?

My most practical definition for innovation is this:

Innovation is creating value by doing something better by doing it a new or different way.

That “something better” could be many things:

  • A new product
  • A refined process
  • An improved way to collaborate

Innovation doesn’t have to mean a radical change -incremental tweaks are innovative too. Given this broad definition of innovation, everyone can be innovative. It’s not limited to a select, creative few.

Now MDC credit unions all know this isn’t new. They already know that being innovative is their competitive advantage. Yet, it’s so much easier said than done.

So many organizations are stuck in the status quo. They may have good intentions to become more innovative, but they find themselves spinning their wheels, doing things the way they’ve always done them.

Why?

Innovation is easier on paper than it is with humans. In order to be innovative, companies need to embrace change and take risks. That sounds good—in theory. In reality, it’s not so easy to fully embrace change while still having to achieve this month’s performance target. After all, if you change doing what you’re currently doing, what happens if things get worse instead of getting better?

Humans behave in confusing ways. For example, people are more concerned with losses than with gains. This behavioral trait is known as loss aversion. People predictably prefer avoiding losses over acquiring the equivalent gains. In fact, studies suggest that psychologically, losses are twice as powerful gains. This human trait leads to risk aversion, where people do whatever they can do to reduce uncertainty.

As a leader, your attempts to lead innovation will inevitably fail if you don’t stop and address the risks that come with the very human (and very messy) territory of dealing with change.

Here are six risks people anywhere may experience when you tell them “As of today, we’re going to become a more innovative organization.”

1. Disruption

Disruption has become a hot topic since the concept of disruptive innovation was introduced in 1995. There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between disruption and innovation. All disruption is innovation, but not all innovation is disruption. Disruption (think Uber and the taxi industry) happens when a product or service takes root in a market and eventually displaces the established companies in that industry.

For some people, when they hear “innovation” they mistakenly think “disruption” and jump to the belief that “everything we are doing is going to go away, and I’m going to have to completely reinvent myself”. This leads to the fear-based thought “My job is disappearing.” Can you see how that might prompt some resistance?

People best absorb change the same way they eat the large portions heaped on their Thanksgiving plate: one bite at a time. As a leader, don’t just focus your messaging on what’s changing—focus on what’s staying the same. Sweeping, massive change may do more harm than good, if people aren’t prepared for the change.

2. Confusion

When you say “innovate,” are people clear on what that means? Have you clearly articulated what your strategy around innovation will be? What business results do you plan to achieve by means of making changes? Do people see how their day to day jobs fitting into that larger whole?

If you’re not clear on the big picture and how it connects, people will get lost and confused. In times of confusion, people hold on to what they already know (the familiar status quo) to steady themselves.

3. Loss of Alignment

Changing things is like “breaking up the band.” Right now, people know who their go-to people are and where to go with their current issues. If you change that, how will it change organizational alignment? Who will report to whom? Who collaborates with whom?

If you jump into change without helping people see the new structure impacts them, you will breed resistance and negativity.

4. Loss of Consistency

People are creatures of habit. When you start fiddling with their routines, the limbic brain (the emotional center) goes on high alert. What does this change mean? What am I supposed to do now?

People are hardwired to assume that any change could be a threat. This useful biological trait kept our ancestors alive when they heard a rustling in the grass, but as an leader, your success in innovation will come from anticipating these instinctive reactions to change and addressing them in advance.

5. Decreased Productivity

No one likes to go through “the Dip:”

You can tell people that (theoretically) that eventually things will get better. But, when standing in that first moment, all people can see is the Dip, and the Dip is a scary place.

As a leader, you have to take the long view and communicate it to your team. Let them know that things will get better and sustain them through the difficult times of transition.

6. Numb to Change

When our brains are under threat, they have three default settings:

  1. Fight
  2. Flight
  3. Freeze

Becoming numb to change is the innovation version of “freeze”. When people have been through lots of change and you haven’t created the capacity for them to absorb any more, a team of “numb” is what you’ll get.

Change is an ongoing process. According to John Kotter, Harvard Professor and author of Leading Change, most leaders under-communicate the impact of change to a factor of 10. You may have said it before. Say it again. What’s the purpose of this change? What’s the impact? Explain everyone’s roles in making innovation happen.

If you want to lead a more innovative team, you’re going to have to get good at finding ways to overcome the risks that people inherently have to change.

MDC owners can learn more about MDC’s work dedicated to building cultures of innovation within our network, including our preferred pricing agreement with FutureThink to provide innovation trainings, on MDC Connect.